Cadence of Conflict: Asia, November 2, 2015


In pre-WWII terms, last week, North Korea tried a “Hitler” in Southern seas and got sent home running. This week, the US did a sail by and China pulled a “France”. It’s clear who’s boss of the Pacific.

At least that’s what the Pentagon will think.

China’s response, though proof that it lacks strength, neither proves weakness nor will. Chinese are calculating and polite. Chinese conflicts do not escalate slowly; the pressure builds slowly, then the conflict erupts faster than American’s can blink.

But there is more going on with indirect communication, and Beijing is learning, for better or worse. In all likelihood, Beijing expected the US to react like most Chinese do to new power’s assertion. Specifically, they expected either silence or some kind of neighboring buildup. Remember, China is the land of the Great Wall. They built the islands with a fleet, they probably expected the US to confront them either with a fleet or not at all.

In Beijing’s mind, constructing military islands in force is also an unspoken message to the US, which Beijingers will interpret as more meaningful than a direct diplomatic message. However, the US, also sent it’s message with the sail-by: The island claim has been rejected. In East Asian thinking, if you understand an “implied order”, then you immediately comply. But since the US did not respond with one of the expected answers according to the Asian-indirect script, Beijing probably didn’t get the message the US tried to send; instead, Beijing probably thinks that the US didn’t understand.

While Beijing doesn’t understand, it is slowly learning. But Beijing is not learning fast enough. It only takes one look at pre-WWI history to explain it all. A single American ship in hostile waters is asking to get sunk so America can have the excuse it needs to respond in unimaginable wrath—a wrath that China has never faced in combat.

The sail-by last week was no mere test; it was the godfather blowing a kiss across the board room. Horse heads will roll.

In other news, China lifted the one-child policy to a two-child policy. The US objected, somewhat. Few things make it clearer that the conflict in the Pacific is already here.


The US just challenged China in the South China Sea and… nothing happened (QZ)

China warns US against ‘minor’ incidents that could ‘spark war’

U.S. urges China to lift all birth limits (JT)